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The (Real) Incredible India

August 2010
The (Real) Incredible India

Over the last decade two divergent perceptions have been growing within me in regards to my Indian heritage. One is seeing the disturbing rise in the jingoistic nationalism of some Indians—characterized by the zealous chest-thumping that requires putting down other nations, cultures, and religions in order to derive a national, cultural, and religious superiority.

These Indian chauvinists may be worlds apart in geography and culture from the extreme right wingers in the U.S., but they share a common trait: Their superiority complex is no different than the American exceptionalism subscribed to by the neoconservatives. Both these groups, it is safe to say, are cocksure of their exceptionalism and their agency with the divine.

Coming from a healthy reservation of such reductionist nationalism, I have simultaneously also come to see within myself a growing awe and appreciation for the brilliance and depth of the ancient Indian heritage. First, through my yet tiny immersion in yogic and Vedic scriptures for over ten years, and later through the (almost) daily practice of sadhana (a combination of various forms of yoga), I have gradually come to see the immensity of the Indian heritage.

Take the theory of Karma, just one of the many bedrocks of yoga philosophy. It is a remarkably intricate diagnosis as well as prescription for the human condition; much more so than the simple cause-and-effect that most people associate with karma. It explains so much of life right down to “Why bad things happen to good people.”

Then there is the profound dissection of the human BEING that Raja yoga has had the audacity to accomplish. It’s a dissection that has gone into seemingly incomprehensible depths of each of the components that make up a human being: body, mind, intellect, ego, awareness, consciousness, unconsciousness, sub-consciousness, super-consciousness, the underlying energy (prana) that drives it all, and the many other subtle layers within each of these.

The crown tool of this system is meditation, which is said to help us experientially access and dissect these penetrating multiple layers of our own being, to come to a transcendental reality of the oneness of the entire universe.

Up until recent decades, the field of psychotherapy refused to acknowledge the presence of any transcendental reality, but now it is increasingly validating meditation, long known in our spiritual traditions as a vehicle for the beyond.. Dr. Paul R. Fleischman, a retired psychiatrist who was honored by the American Psychiatric Association with the Oskar Pfister Award, is now a full-time Vipassana meditation teacher who frequently lectures at universities around the world about meditation and psychotherapy. He is just one example of the nod that meditation gets, not as a tool in psychotherapy, but as an acknowledgement that the scientific study of the mind eventually points to a transcendental reality, one that can be accessed through meditation.

Indeed, modern science, especially quantum physics, has only now come to validate subtle existential truths that the yogic and Vedic texts revealed a few millennia back. Truths such as: the whole existence is one energy, and matter does not exist. Nothing in rational human experience can ever perceive such truths. Yet the rishis and yogis of those times were able to crack the juggernaut of existence itself. That’s the highest that an individual or a civilization can aspire to. And it was done in that land—thousands of times over. It is a land that has produced the highest numbers of sentient beings known to mankind.

Because the luminous heights of such lofty aspirations as transcendence are neither easily quantifiable nor easily verbalized, they don’t lend themselves well to any campaigns of “Incredible India”—as double-digit GDP growth and fancy new metro rails do. That is also why many in the West have failed miserably to see the splendor of the Indian heritage, and why they see it only as a damned “Hindoo” country teeming with poverty, pollution, congestion, and corruption, despite our pitiful attempts to plaster “India Shining” labels all over it.

To the redemption of the West, there are a few—the thinkers and the philosophers—who have sensed the glory of the Indian heritage. Take, for example, historian and philosopher Will Durant, who said, “ India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. She was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.” And the iconic American Mark Twain, who said, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”

India is indeed incredible, but hardly for its GDP growth, its capitalistic potential, its filmdom, or its IT superpower.

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